A smile-inducing flower of a place
Time was when a search for a Thai restaurant could take you into the wilds of Oakland Beach or South Providence. But nowadays, they pop up as frequently as spring flowers (and are just as welcome). The most recent to come our way is Thai Orchid, and its small dining room (14 seats) should in no way undersell the quality of its food.
Thai Orchid | 800 Park Ave, Cranston | Mon, 5-9 Pm; Tues-Thurs, 11 am-9 pm; Fri, 11 am-9:30 pm; Sat, 12-9:30 pm | Major credit cards | Byob | Sidewalk-level access [bathroom not accessible] | 401.780.8889
When we visited recently, it was clear that owner/cooks Matee and Suchitra Pukkum knew most of the take-out customers by name and several of the sit-down diners as well. The two men eating next to us said they’d heard of other Thai restaurants in the area, but they didn’t see any reason to try them, since everything they’d eaten at Thai Orchid exceeded their expectations.
With such an introduction, we had little trouble choosing our starter and dinner items. The chicken satay ($5.95) and nime chow ($4.50) were both excellent. The satay offering was four generous breast pieces, grilled and drizzled with a smooth peanut sauce. The nime chow were packed with shrimp, slivered carrots, chopped lettuce, Thai basil, bean sprouts, and rice vermicelli. The accompanying dipping sauce with chopped peanuts was nicely thickened — the better to cling to the nime chow.
Bill almost always grabs the tom kah gai soup ($4.95), that delightful mixture of chicken broth, coconut milk, lime juice, and galanga (a relative of ginger). But this time the ginger soup with shrimp ($4.95) appealed to his winter-cold sniffly self, and it was a good choice for that, with grated fresh ginger in its broth. I, meanwhile, was luxuriating in the tom kah gai, with plenty of mushrooms and scallions, plus pieces of chicken.
Next came our choice of pad Thai country-style ($7.50), billed as “a truly native dish.” Though Bill would have preferred the noodles with a bit more bite to them, I didn’t mind. I really enjoyed the spiciness and the pieces of tofu and scrambled egg stirred into the noodles.
Menu categories that we didn’t even touch this time around were salads, including a highly recommended Thai spicy beef salad; special noodles, with the neighboring diner praising the laad naa, a fresh wide noodle with veggies in a brown gravy sauce; three fried rice options; 10 “main course” offerings — sauces such as hot basil leaf, spicy black bean, ginger and scallion, or lemongrass, with optional add-ins of salmon, seafood, tofu, chicken, beef, duck, vegetables, or shrimp; and six curry dishes, with the same add-ins.
We found ourselves drawn to the list of 16 “specialties,” most of which could be ordered vegetarian, with corresponding sauces. One intriguing one is “friendship,” described as shrimp and chicken in “chef’s sauce.” Another is “four king,” veggies and seafood in a mild curry sauce served over steamed mussels.
Duck can be ordered in three variations: a hot pepper sauce, a honey/ lemon sauce with almonds, or a tamarind sauce with ginger, pineapple, and vegetables ($12.95), which was Bill’s choice. The vegetables in both of our dishes were very fresh, permutations and combinations of green beans, pea pods, green and red sweet peppers, broccoli, green and yellow summer squash, carrots, and scallions.
My entrée choice was tofu in pik pow sauce ($9.95). Pik pow sauce is usually a mixture of dried chilis, onions, garlic powder, and fish sauce. In this dish, the sharp and savory flavors of those spices was balanced by the sweetness of pineapple and cashews. All of them enveloped the tofu in a very tasty glaze, and it was hard to stop eating it.
Desserts include sweet sticky rice, lychee fruit, ice cream, and Thai coconut custard (each $3.25). Suchitra told us that her “mom-in-law” made the custard, so we had to try that one. Cut into small squares, this was almost a cake, with a bit of whipped cream on top. The coconut taste was subtle but discernible, with none of the gritty flakes of coconut that originally put Bill off that flavor.
The small space with windows onto Park Avenue has apricot walls and simple green tables, with no covering, but with cloth napkins. (A similar touch is terry washcloths in the bathroom, instead of paper towels.)
Despite the steady take-out business while we were there and the four tables to serve, Suchitra was always cheerful, punctuating her sentences with an endearing “honey.” That and the glass cups of green tea she frequently refilled made us feel right at home. So much so, that Bill is already planning a trip to Cranston for one of Thai Orchid’s eight lunch specials (11 am to 3 pm Monday-Friday). For, as he pointed out, “Everyone entering is smiling, and everyone exiting is smiling.”
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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